Home D. D. – Fire experiments – Stainton Moses’s testimony
Type of Spiritual Experience
A description of the experience
Friar Herbert Thurston - The Physical Phenomenon of Mysticism
… let me take a final illustration of Home's extraordinary gift from another source. In Stainton Moses' notes-the notes were written immediately afterwards-of a stance which took place at Miss Douglas' house, 81, South Audley Street, on April 30, 1873, we are told how after various phenomena with the accordion and with materialized hands which were both felt and seen-
Mr. Home went to the fire-place, removed the guard, and sat down on the hearthrug. There he seemed to hold a conversation by signs with a spirit. He repeatedly bowed, and finally set to work to mesmerise his head again. He ruffled his bushy hair until it stood out like a mop, and then deliberately lay down and put his head in the bright wood fire.
The hair was in the blaze, and must under ordinary circumstances have been singed off. His head was in the grate and his neck on a level with the top bar. This was repeated several times. He also put his hand into the fire, smoothed away the wood and coal, and picked out a live coal, which he held in his hand for a few seconds, but replaced soon, saying the power was not sufficient. He tried to give a hot coal to Mr. Crookes, but was unable to do it. He then came to all of to satisfy us that there was no smell of fire on his hair. There was absolutely none.
"The smell of fire had not passed on him."
Before Myers printed this account in the Proceedings of the S.P.R., he consulted Sir William (then Mr.) Crookes as to its accuracy. The latter replied on March 9, 1893, in the following terms:
I have a distinct recollection of the seance here described and can corroborate Mr. Stainton Moses account. I was not well placed for seeing the first part of the "fire test" here recorded.
I knew from experience, that when Home was in trance much movement or conversation on the part of others present was likely to interfere with the progress of the phenomena. My back was to the fire and I did not at first turn round to see what he was doing. Being told what was taking place, I looked and saw Home in the act of raising his head from the fire. Probably this was the last occasion of the "several times" it was repeated, as I have no recollection of seeing it more than once. On my expressing great disappointment at having missed this test, Mr. Home told me to leave my seat and come with him to the fire. He asked me if I should be afraid to take a live coal (ember') from his hand. I said No, I would take it if he would give it me. He then put his hand among the hot coals (embers) and deliberately picked out the brightest bit and held it in his hand for a few seconds. He appeared to deliberate for a time and then returned it to the grate, saying the power was too weak, and he was afraid I might be hurt. During this time I was kneeling on the hearthrug, and unable to explain how it was he was not severely burnt.
The fire was of wood, Miss Douglas never burning coal in her reception rooms. At the commencement of the evening a log of wood had been put on, and this had been smouldering throughout the evening. My recollection of the fire is that it was not a particularly bright one.
What Mr. Crookes adds, seeing that he was one of the most famous chemists and physicists of his day, is particularly interesting.
I do not (he goes on] believe in the possibility of the ordinary skin of the hand being so prepared as to enable hot coals to be handled with impunity. School-boys books and mediaeval tales describe how this can be done with alum or certain other ingredients. It is possible that the skin may be so hardened and thickened by such preparations that superficial charring might take place without the pain becoming great, but the surface of the skin would certainly suffer severely. After Home had recovered from the trance I examined his hand with care to see if there were any sign of burning or of previous preparation. I could detect no trace of injury to the skin, which was soft and delicate like a woman's. Neither were there signs of any preparations having been previously applied.
I have often seen conjurers and others handle red-hot coals and iron, but there' were always palpable signs of burning. A negro was once brought to my laboratory, who professed to be able to handle red-hot iron with impunity. I was asked to test his pretensions, and I did so carefully. There was no doubt he could touch and hold for a brief time red-hot iron without feeling much pain, and supposing his feet were as resisting as his hands, he could have triumphantly passed the "red-hot plough-share" ordeal. But the house was pervaded for hours after with the odour of roast negro.